Dialogue  October - December 2005 , Volume 7  No. 2

Sports Journalism in India

Balbir Dutt

The sports columns in modern newspapers have become extremely popular. There is probably more universal reader interest in the sports pages than in any of the other parts of the modern newspapers.  
    Sports throughout the world have assumed an importance beyond the recreational aspect. As a result readers are demanding more and more reading matter on sports events.  
    It is heartening to note that of late sports have received a strong impetus in India. Our people are now taking more interest in games, sports and athletic events than they were doing formerly. Government’s interest in sports, once lukewarm, has also heightened to an appreciable degree. The formation of the Sports Council and Sports Authority of India and establishment of the National Institute of Sports are all illustrative of the changed trend. A numbar of Stats have introduced sports as compulsory subject in schools and some of them have started sports schools and sports hostels etc.  
    Almost all newspapers of standing in our country, particularly English language newspapers are devoting atleast one full page to sports news. Some of the bigger newspapers are devoting two to three pages regularly. This demonstrates the tremendous pull sports command upon the minds of newspaper readers.

Growth of Indian Sports Journalism

However, Indian sports journalism is of recent growth. In the main it developed in a very perceptible manner in the early years of independence. Prior to that there were practically no regular sports pages in many newspapers.  
    The first remarkable event in the history of sports journalism in India was the introduction of a sports page by a leading English daily of Bombay in the late thirties. This bold and ‘revolutionary’ step was resented by some readers who had no interest in sports but the majority of the readers liked it. Its sports page became so popular that other newspapers followed suit. Today there are sports columns in all daily newspapers.  
    Yet a distressing feature of Indian sports journalism is that there are not enougth good magazines on sports especially in Indian languages. A couple of English magazines are catering to the needs of sports lovers but there is woeful lack of informative and educative journals in Indian languages.

A Specilization

Sports journalism is a form of specialization with its own special rules and conditions. Whether one is a sports writer, reporter or sub-editor, he lives in a different world. But in that world the basic principles of the craft remain the same. Within Journalism relating to sports, there are subsidiary specializations concerned with cricket, hockey, football, tennis, badminton and athletics etc. Here there is choice enough for anybody.  
    It is pleasant for the sports writer to view a sports event from the best seats and without paying any admission fee but he is never able to assume the carefree attitude of a casual fan. For him watching sports event is an absorbing as well as a taxing affair. This does not mean that sports writers do not enjoy their work. It does mean that they cannot allow their enthusiasm to approach that which the average sports lover displays.  
    While covering important sports events a sports reporter has to collect previous records to relate the news to the past, prepare explanatory material and background facts and do speculative and interpretative reporting. He must get adequate identification of the players.
    He has to go beyond the mere objective of reporting of the event. He has to be a trained expert qualified not only to report but also to explain and interpret the run of play. He has to expand the horizon of the news. He has to explain, amplity and clarify.  
    A sports reporter should be eagle-eyed and with sharp ears. He must not only be sensitive to his environment but must have the capacity to translate the excitement on the field into readable words.  
    So it is a hard road indeed. But in any case journalism as a whole is an exacting master and offers no bed of roses.
    Working sports journalists are facing another problem peculiar to their sphere of specialization. Many renowned sportsmen and national sports heroes of the recent past have made ‘intrusions’ into the ‘field’. Newspapers are vying with one another to have the advantage of a byline of a great sports celebrity. A luminous band of sports stars of former times have turned to journalism i.e. sports journalism and they are writing frequently in the national Press. When important matches are staged they ‘cover’ them. For example, half a dozen former test cricketers cover test matches for different newspapers. Their names are well known, their exploits are fresh in the public mind. Naturally their byline attracts readers. Sometimes when two news stories of a single match appear in a paper, the news story of the working journalist (atlhough he may be an eminent journalist) is given sccondary treatment.  
    Anyway, seasoned and thoroughly competent men in the profession and those who want to be in right earnest and are painstaking need have no worries. They can do very well. While presenting all the facts that are needed for a story they can add a distinctive touch of their own as a mark of individuality and originality.

Sports Bodies and the Press

It is superfiuous to dwell on the important part the Press can play in the development of sports in India. It has shaped public opinion in more serious spheres of the nation. Its value as a factor in sports would even be greater. But it is a pity that the practice of debarring the Press from the meetings of many national federations is prevalent in our country.  
    What happens at present? The sports correspondents are called to a briefing after the meeting and an uninformative statement or a statement with scrappy information is made by an official of the federation, the correspondents never getting a true picture of what transpired. For him wells of information seem to dry up.  
    What does the correspondent do? He creates his own source of information. He goes to one or the other of the members of the federation with whom he is on good terms. He elicits his version and prepares his news story. The next morning you read the paper, to find very often, contradictory reports of the same meeting, which create confusion in public mind.  
    It is a pity that in a free democratic country where the Press enjoys normal freedom and access to the country’s highest councils, deliberations of sports meetings are not open to Press correspondents.  
    However, it would be incorrect to assume that this state of affairs is seriously hindering the democratic process of the sports Press in India. We can confidently hope that in course of time the sports administrators would become less sceptical and more patronizing and that they would realize that the fundmental duty of the Press in an open society is to analyse, criticize and expose if necessary.

The future of Indian sports journalism is bright and there is no doubt that it will get its due place.

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

Astha Bharati